Since the Sandy Hook shootings on December 14th there has been considerable discussion of gun violence in the United States. As often happens with discussions of policy-making, though, very little of the conversation has been driven by the research on gun-related crime. Gun-enthusiasts, in particular seem to gravitate toward anecdotal evidence of how legal gun ownership is the only way to prevent gun related crime. In fact, just days after the shooting, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, argued that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Of course, as has been addressed before, the data on the impact of concealed carry laws has been difficult to interpret and has allowed for differing conclusions. However, the relationship between gun ownership in a community and gun-related crime in that community can be tested empirically. This was what Dr. Anthony Hoskins set out to do in his 2011 article in Criminal Justice Studies where he found, quite simply, that when it comes to murder and aggravated assault, more guns equal more crime.
His paper used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (a telephone survey conducted every year) and was designed to explore the relationships between percentages of homes with a gun in particular counties with the rates of murders, robberies, and aggravated assaults in those counties, while controlling for a host of demographic variables (e.g., total population, unemployment rate). Ultimately, he was evaluating three different theories on gun ownership and crime: (1) that gun ownership rates are unrelated to violent crime, (2) that gun ownership rates are associated with a decrease in violent crime (the view held by LaPierre and other gun enthusiasts), and (3) that gun ownership rates are associated with an increase in violent crime.
In the end, his evaluation found support for the third hypothesis, that the more guns in a community, the higher the violent crime rate. Specifically, what he identified is that the “introduction of a gun into a violent incident raises the risk of injury or death” (p. 127). In other words, yes, you can kill someone with a hammer or a baseball bat, but you cannot kill them from as far away or in rapid succession the way you can with a gun. It should also be noted that these findings run completely contrary to what LaPierre and other gun advocates have been arguing. They would argue that a higher percentage of gun owners in a community would be negatively correlated with all three forms of violent crime. Instead, it was positively correlated with two types of violent crime (murder and aggravated assault) and uncorrelated with the third (burglary).
By Ryan C. Martin